Constitutional Law

Report says Chicago police, FBI joined in warrantless probation searches; law firm to investigate

The judge in charge of all Chicago-area courts announced Wednesday that he had retained a private law firm to investigate claims made in a lengthy Chicago Tribune article published earlier in the day.

Cook County probation officers had for years been allowing Chicago police and agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to participate in warrantless searches, thus evading constitutional requirements when searching homes for evidence in criminal cases, according to the article. There have also been allegations of stolen money and planted drugs during such searches, as well as claims that probationers were pressured to become law enforcement informants under threat of jail, the Chicago Tribune (sub. req.) reported.

Last year, a man criminally charged as a result of a warrantless search wasn’t even on probation, but simply resided in a home in which another individual was on probation. Michael Lipford, 57, who was charged with weapons-related offenses after police pried open a safe he refused to open, had allowed his firearms license to expire, according to the newspaper. He says $850 he pulled out of a pouch while looking for his firearms card disappeared during the search and losing the money meant he could not visit his dying brother in Memphis.

In addition to retaining Laner Muchin on Wednesday to investigate the Tribune’s claims, Chief Circuit Judge Timothy Evans also said that deputy chief Philippe Loizon of the Cook County Adult Probation Department had been placed on desk duty as of Friday, a subsequent Chicago Tribune article reported. That was two days after the newspaper took its findings to department officials.

Loizon was involved in a number of incidents that the Tribune article questioned. He declined the newspaper’s request for comment.

Judge Evans is in charge of the probation department, which monitors some 24,000 defendants serving probationary terms instead of prison sentences. Due to their supervised status, their homes may be searched by probation officers without warrants. Although there are circumstances in which it is appropriate for the probation department to bring in the police and federal agents, the Tribune says Cook County lacks written standards and procedures to make clear when it is OK to do so. Under the current regime, a single curfew violation reportedly has resulted in probationers having their homes tossed.

“I am outraged by these allegations which, if true, could be considered a blatant disregard of constitutional rights,” said Evans in response to the Tribune expose. “It is the responsibility of the probation officers to safeguard the rights of probationers at all times by ensuring appropriate policies and procedures are followed.”

Related coverage: “Top state court says Chicago lacks ‘clear and appropriate’ release criteria for criminal defendants”

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